Literary Fiction

08/16/2011 - 7:58am
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

In Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, 23-year-old veterinary student, Jacob Jankowski, is looking forward to graduating with a degree from Cornell University and joining his father’s veterinary practice. Unfortunately, fate intervenes and Jacob’s parents are killed in an automobile accident. Jacob learns that his parents have no savings and plenty of debt, having bartered for veterinary payments from cash-poor farmers (it is the Depression, after all) and mortgaged their house to the teeth in order to pay his tuition.

Bereft of both parents and financial future, Jacob despairs and jumps a train moving through the town. It happens to belong to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth, a poor cousin to Ringling Brothers. Once it’s discovered that he has veterinary experience, he is put in charge of the animals, a task that is at once heartwarming, thankless, and distressing. The circus is run by the greedy Uncle Al and the brilliant but mercurial August, the animal trainer who keeps the circus afloat. August, a paranoid schizophrenic, alters between warmly welcoming Jacob and trying to kill him.

08/12/2011 - 3:30am

This readalike is in response to a patron's book-match request. If you would like personalized reading recommendations, fill out the book-match form and a librarian will email suggested titles to you. Available for adults, teens, and kids.  You can browse the book matches here.

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck: Though more than sixty years have passed since this remarkable novel won the Pulitzer Prize, it has retained its popularity and become one of the great modern classics. "I can only write what I know, and I know nothing but China, having always lived there," wrote Pearl Buck. In The Good Earth she presents a graphic view of a China when the last emperor reigned and the vast political and social upheavals of the twentieth century were but distant rumblings for the ordinary people. This moving, classic story of the honest farmer Wang Lung and his selfless wife O-lan is must reading for those who would fully appreciate the sweeping changes that have occurred in the lives of the Chinese people during this century. Nobel Prize winner Pearl S. Buck traces the whole cycle of life: its terrors, its passions, its ambitions and rewards.

Read more about The Good Earth  on our Shelf Life blog. If you like The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck, you may also like these books:

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
This "piercing study of childhood innocence lost" mirrors the growing pains of modern India. Twin sister and brother Rahel and Estha are at the center of a family in crisis and at the heart of this "moving and compactly written book." (Library Journal review) More symbolism, more cultural diversity, another classic! This book won the Booker Prize.

 

 

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
One of the most influential literary works of our time, One Hundred Years of Solitude is a dazzling and original achievement by the masterful Gabriel García Márquez, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. One Hundred Years of Solitude tells the story of the rise and fall, birth and death of the mythical town of Macondo through the history of the Buendía family. Inventive, amusing, magnetic, sad, and alive with unforgettable men and women -- brimming with truth, compassion, and a lyrical magic that strikes the soul -- this novel is a masterpiece in the art of fiction. (product description, Amazon.com) Talk about symbolism! This book is packed with it! Beautifully written, here's a literary classic from yet another culture and continent - the Americas.
 

05/03/2012 - 1:32pm

This readalike is in response to a patron's book-match request. If you would like personalized reading  recommendations, fill out the book-match form and a librarian will email suggested titles to you.  Available for adults, teens, and kids.

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese--Focusing on the world of medicine, this epic first novel by well-known doctor/author Verghese (My Own Country) follows a man on a mythic quest to find his father. It begins with the dramatic birth of twins slightly joined at the skull, their father serving as surgeon and their mother dying on the table. The horrorstruck father vanishes, and the now separated boys are raised by two Indian doctors living on the grounds of a mission hospital in early 1950s Ethiopia. The boys both gravitate toward medical practice, with Marion the more studious one and Shiva a moody genius and loner. Also living on the hospital grounds is Genet, daughter of one of the maids, who grows up to be a beautiful and mysterious young woman and a source of ruinous competition between the brothers. After Marion is forced to flee the country for political reasons, he begins his medical residency at a poor hospital in New York City, and the past catches up with him.
The medical background is fascinating as the author delves into fairly technical areas of human anatomy and surgical procedure. (Library Journal)

If you like Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese, you may like these titles.

Away: a novel by Amy Bloom
"The story begins in Russia in the 1920s. Lillian Leyb survives the massacre of her family and runs away to New York City to live with a cousin. Ever practical, she allows herself to become the mistress of a star of the Jewish theater, and, although she's not happy, life is not so bad. However, when she finds out that her daughter Sophie may still be alive in Siberia, she leaves everything she has and begins the arduous journey home. She rides trains hiding in broom closets and servicing conductors. She climbs on boats and walks the Yukon trail headed for the Bering Strait and probably death. But she has to try." (Booklist Review)

Beneath the Lion's Gaze by Maaza Mengiste
The brutal 1970s civil war in Ethiopia is the dramatic setting in this first novel, told from searing personal viewpoints that humanize the politics from many sides and without slick messages. The author, born in Addis Ababa and now living in New York, tells the story in unforgettable detail: between Emperor Haile Selassi in his lush palace set against the famine outside, captured in the image of a child gnawing on a stone. The focus is on the family of physician Hailu, first before the revolution and then after the brutal regime takes over. His older son tries to lead a quiet life and look the other way, until Hailu is taken and tortured. The younger son joins the mass demonstrations, exhilarated that change has come, then deflated when he confronts the new tyranny. The clear narrative voices also include the women in the family and others on all sides, who experience the graphic violence, both in the old feudal system, where a rich kid regularly rapes a servant, and in the new dictatorship with torture in the name of freedom. (Booklist)
 

06/30/2011 - 11:04am
All Is Forgotten, Nothing Is Lost

Lan Samantha Chang presents difficult questions in this thoughtful and provoking novel, All Is Forgotten, Nothing Is Lost: Is a poet born or made?  What happens to the poetic imagination as time passes? What is the role of poetry in our time?

06/24/2011 - 11:59am
 The Beach House by Jane Green

This readalike is in response to a patron's book-match request. If you would like personalized reading recommendations, fill out the book-match form and a librarian will email suggested titles to you. Available for adults, teens, and kids.  You can browse the book matches here.

The Beach House by Jane Green: "Known in Nantucket as the crazy woman who lives in the rambling house atop the bluff, Nan doesn't care what people think. At sixty-five-years old, her husband died twenty years ago, her beauty has faded, and her family has flown. If her neighbors are away, why shouldn't she skinny dip in their swimming pools and help herself to their flowers? But when she discovers the money she thought would last forever is dwindling and she could lose her beloved house, Nan knows she has to make drastic changes. So Nan takes out an ad: Rooms to rent for the summer in a beautiful old Nantucket home with water views and direct access to the beach. Slowly, people start moving into the house, filling it with noise, with laughter, and with tears. As the house comes alive again, Nan finds her family expanding. Her son comes home for the summer, and then an unexpected visitor turns all their lives upside-down."

If you liked the unexpected storyline and the eccentric characters of The Beach House by Jane Green, you may also like these titles and authors.

Big stone gapBig Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani.
It's 1978, and Ave Maria Mulligan is the thirty-five-year-old self-proclaimed spinster of Big Stone Gap, a sleepy hamlet in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. She's also the local pharmacist, the co-captain of the Rescue Squad, and the director of The Trail of the Lonesome Pine, the town's long-running Outdoor Drama. Ave Maria is content with her life of doing errands and negotiating small details-until she discovers a skeleton in her family's formerly tidy closet that completely unravels her quiet, conventional life. Suddenly, she finds herself juggling two marriage proposals, conducting a no-holds-barred family feud, planning a life-changing journey to the Old Country, and helping her best friend, the high-school band director, design a halftime show to dazzle Elizabeth Taylor, the violet-eyed Hollywood movie star who's coming through town on a campaign stump with her husband, senatorial candidate John Warner. Filled with big-time eccentrics and small-town shenanigans, Big Stone Gap is a jewel box of original characters, including sexpot Bookmobile librarian Iva Lou Wade; Fleeta Mullins, the chain-smoking pharmacy cashier with a penchant for professional wrestling; the dashing visionary Theodore Tipton; Elmo Gaspar, the snake-handling preacher; Jack MacChesney, a coal-mining bachelor looking for true love; and Pearl Grimes, a shy mountain girl on the verge of a miraculous transformation. Comic and compassionate, Big Stone Gap is the story of a woman who thinks life has passed her by, only to learn that the best is yet to come. (Catalog summary)
 

Can't Wait to Get to Heaven by Fannie Flagg.
Life is the strangest thing. One minute, Mrs. Elner Shimfissle is up in her tree, picking figs, and the next thing she knows, she is off on an adventure she never dreamed of, running into people she never in a million years expected to meet. Meanwhile, back home, Elner's nervous, high-strung niece Norma faints and winds up in bed with a cold rag on her head; Elner's neighbor Verbena rushes immediately to the Bible; her truck driver friend, Luther Griggs, runs his eighteen-wheeler into a ditch-and the entire town is thrown for a loop and left wondering, "What is life all about, anyway?" Except for Tot Whooten, who owns Tot's Tell It Like It Is Beauty Shop. Her main concern is that the end of the world might come before she can collect her social security. In this comedy-mystery, those near and dear to Elner discover something wonderful: Heaven is actually right here, right now, with people you love, neighbors you help, friendships you keep. (from the catalog summary)

06/17/2011 - 3:31am
Let the Great World Spin

This readalike is in response to a patron's book-match request. If you would like personalized reading recommendations, fill out the book-match form and a librarian will email suggested titles to you. Available for adults, teens, and kids.  You can browse the book matches here.

"Let the Great World Spin" by Colum McCann: A rich vision of the pain, loveliness, mystery, and promise of New York City in the 1970s. A radical young Irish monk struggles with his own demons as he lives among the prostitutes in the middle of the burning Bronx. A group of mothers gathers in a Park Avenue apartment to mourn their sons who died in Vietnam, only to discover just how much divides them even in grief. A young artist finds herself at the scene of a hit-and-run that sends her own life careening sideways. A 38-year-old grandmother turns tricks alongside her teenage daughter, determined not only to take care of her family but to prove her own worth. Weaving together these and other seemingly disparate lives, McCann's allegory comes alive in the voices of the city's people, unexpectedly drawn together by hope, beauty, and the "artistic crime of the century"--a mysterious tightrope walker dancing between the Twin Towers.

If you enjoyed "Let the Great World Spin" by Colum McCann for the writing, the family story and the setting, you may enjoy these titles:

American Rust by Philipp Meyer
Left alone to care for his aging father after his mother commits suicide and his sister escapes to Yale, Isaac English longs for a life beyond his hometown. But when he finally sets out to leave for good, accompanied by his temperamental best friend, former high school football star Billy Poe, they are caught up in a terrible act of violence that changes their lives forever.-catalog summary


 

Falling Man by Don DeLillo
There is September 11 and then there are the days after, and finally the years. 'Falling Man' is a magnificent, essential novel about the event that defines turn-of-the-century America. It begins in the smoke and ash of the burning towers and tracks the aftermath of this global tremor in the intimate lives of a few people. First, there is Keith, walking out of the rubble into a life that he'd always imagined belonged to everyone but him. Then Lianne, his estranged wife, memory-haunted, trying to reconcile two versions of the same shadowy man. And their small son Justin, standing at the window, scanning the sky for more planes. These are lives choreographed by loss, grief and the enormous force of history. Brave and brilliant, 'Falling Man' traces the way the events of September 11 have reconfigured our emotional landscape, our memory and our perception of the world. It is cathartic, beautiful, heartbreaking. 

05/27/2011 - 7:09am
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

This readalike is in response to a patron's book-match request. If you would like personalized reading recommendations, fill out the book-match form and a librarian will email suggested titles to you. Available for adults, teens, and kids.  You can browse the book matches here.

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver: "The Poisonwood Bible is a story told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. They carry with them all they believe they will need from home, but soon find that all of it - from garden seeds to Scripture - is calamitously transformed on African soil. This tale of one family's tragic undoing and remarkable reconstruction, over the course of three decades in postcolonial Africa, is set against history's most dramatic political parables."

If you liked The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, you may also like these selections:

I would recommend that you read all of Barbara Kingsolver’s novels. They all have interesting stories that illuminate relationships within families, relationships between individuals and the very important relationship we all have with our environment.

The antelope wife: a novel by Louise Erdrich
"Family stories repeat themselves in patterns and waves, generation to generation, across blood and time." Erdrich embroiders this theme in a sensuous novel that brings her back to the material she knows best, the emotionally dislocated lives of Native Americans who try to adhere to the tribal ways while yielding to the lure of the general culture. In a beautifully articulated tale of intertwined relationships among succeeding generations, she tells the story of the Roy and the Shawano families and their "colliding histories and destinies." (Publishers Weekly)
 

At Play in the Fields of the Lord by Peter Matthiessen
Set in the South American jungle, this thriller follows the clash between two misplaced gringos--one who has come to convert the Indians to Christianity, and one who has been hired to kill them.

Cry, the beloved country by Alan Paton
Cry, the Beloved Country is a beautifully told and profoundly compassionate story of the Zulu pastor Stephen Kumalo and his son Absalom, set in the troubled and changing South Africa of the 1940s. The book is written with such keen empathy and understanding that to read it is to share fully in the gravity of the characters' situations. It both touches your heart deeply and inspires a renewed faith in the dignity of mankind. Cry, the Beloved Country is a classic tale, passionately African, timeless and universal, and beyond all, selfless. (catalog summary)

07/06/2011 - 10:26am
The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

Paris retains an eternal allure for the creative. And the gifted expatriates who flocked to the City of Lights in the 1920s often felt the hallowed pursuit of their individual muses justified unconventional personal behavior. The Paris Wife by Paula McLain chronicles the courtship and subsequent marriage of Hadley Richardson and Ernest Hemingway—a relationship strained and eventually damaged by their friends’ hedonistic lifestyles.

Hadley, who was seven years his senior, met her future husband in Chicago. Although quite the ladies’ man, Hemingway was immediately drawn to her wholesome beauty, even temperament, and courage. Hadley’s unconditional support bolstered Hemingway, a man already plagued by multiple demons, and gave him the companionship he needed to wholeheartedly pursue his writing.

05/13/2011 - 3:30am
Ape House by Sara Gruen

This readalike is in response to a patron's book-match request. If you would like personalized reading recommendations, fill out the book-match form and a librarian will email suggested titles to you. Available for adults, teens, and kids.  You can browse the book matches here.

Ape House by Sara Gruen: When a family of bonobo apes who know American Sign Language are kidnapped from a language laboratory, their mysterious appearance on a reality TV show propels scientist Isabel Duncan, together with reporter John Thigpen, on a personal mission to rescue them. An entertaining book that calls into question our assumptions about these animals who share 99.4% of our DNA.

If you like Sara Gruen's Ape House, you may also like these titles and authors.

A Dog's Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron
This is the remarkable story of one endearing dog's search for his purpose over the course of several lives. More than just another charming dog story, this touches on the universal quest for an answer to life's most basic question: Why are we here? Surprised to find himself reborn as a rambunctious golden haired puppy after a tragically short life as a stray mutt, Bailey's search for his new life's meaning leads him into the loving arms of 8 year old Ethan. During their countless adventures Bailey joyously discovers how to be a good dog. But this life as a beloved family pet is not the end of Bailey's journey. Reborn as a puppy yet again, Bailey wonders, will he ever find his purpose?

Heartwarming, insightful, and often laugh out loud funny, this book is not only the emotional and hilarious story of a dog's many lives, but also a dog's eye commentary on human relationships and the unbreakable bonds between man and man's best friend. This story teaches us that love never dies, that our true friends are always with us, and that every creature on earth is born with a purpose. (Catalog summary)

The Elephant Keeper by Christopher Nicholson
Deeply soulful and richly imaginative, this magical adventure tells the story of two baby elephants and the young man who accidentally finds himself their keeper. (Catalog summary)

 

 

03/25/2011 - 1:23pm
This Must Be the Place by Kat Racculia

Amy Henderson could not wait to leave Ruby Falls, New York, and start her life in This Must Be the Place, by Kate Racculia.  She wants to go to Los Angeles and make monsters—her hero is Ray Harryhausen, talented maker of special effects with stop-action animation and creator of the Kraken in the 1981 version of Clash of the Titans. But like many a movie monster, Amy Henderson leaves disaster in her wake.

Amy does get to make monsters, but she dies at 31 of a freak electrical accident on a movie set. She leaves her totally devastated husband Arthur, a pink shoebox full of memorabilia of her life and a postcard with a cryptic message addressed to her best friend Desdemona Jones in Ruby Falls. Amy writes that she left the best of herself there. Arthur makes a journey to find out the secrets in Amy’s life. What hadn’t she told him? What else didn’t he know about his wife?
 

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